The world needs to reset the scales to tackle the huge imbalance between rich and poor

Jesus drove the merchants out of the temple, but who is standing up to today’s billionaires and oligarchs who are exploiting the impoverished and powerless?

About this time last year Social Justice Ireland (SJI), an independent think tank and justice advocacy organisation, published a report which provided information based on official statistics about certain groups in Ireland. Some of the details were shocking. It stated that 671,183 people were living in poverty in Ireland. Of this number, about 188,600 were children under the age of 18 and more than 143,600 were aged over 65. It stated: “Today’s figures are very concerning and point to the long-term economic and social impact of the cost-of-living crisis on households who were already struggling.”

Anyone who does the food shopping on a regular basis will be aware of increasing prices and how goods are advertised and marketed – sales promotions with 20 per cent off here and three-for-two offers somewhere else; lots of smooth words to tempt and perhaps mislead the customer. The UK consumer magazine Which? claimed recently that the reductions are often not in what we pay but in what we get by measure. Manufacturers defend the practice of reducing the size of their products by saying that they are trying to keep prices down when their own costs have gone up – and anyway, they say, the information is printed on the package. Usually the print is so small it is difficult to read.

What has this to do with religion? The answer is quite a lot. Tomorrow the Old Testament reading will list the Ten Commandments – the basis for a just and ordered society. They are given in more detail in the Book Leviticus: “You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or volume. You shall have accurate balances, accurate weights, an accurate ephah [dry goods measure] and an accurate hin [liquid measure]”. Add to that tomorrow’s gospel reading: the cleansing of the Temple, recorded in all four gospels, a confrontation between Jesus and the religious and business interests of his time. “In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.”

He told those who were selling doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!” Mark and Luke tell us that he accused the temple authorities of thieving and identifies poor widows as victims. No sign here of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”: Jesus was angry. Have the churches anything to say today to those commercial interests and highly paid executives who become richer at the expense of the poorest? While today’s cost-of-living crisis impacts on everyone, not everyone will experience poverty, or destitution. Indeed, for many it is not a big issue, but for families with children paying rent or the elderly or disabled living on State benefits it is an entirely different matter and that raises serious questions for a society that defines itself as Christian.


The South African theologian John de Gruchy would argue that the issues raised in the SJI report are part of an age-old struggle. “The dream of the mighty for more power, of the rich for more wealth, is the nightmare of the powerless and poor. But the dream of the oppressed and poor for liberation [immigrants?] is the nightmare of the powerful and rich,” he said. “It has always been so in a world which is unwilling to share resources and to discern them as gifts not possessions. The dream of the oppressed is utopian; it is a vision of a better world. It is the same vision which has motivated the prophets throughout centuries, the vision of the kingdom of God inaugurated in Jesus Christ but yet to come to its fullness. This vision threatens those who possess everything except the ability to share with others. The powerful and privileged fear the dreams of the poor and the visions of the prophets because they derive from the coming kingdom of God, God’s purpose for his world.”